My French fitness challenge!

(You can also catch up with me in Cardiff Life magazine each month and on my Hello! Online blog too.)

Most of us love pancakes.  I’ve not done any substantial research but I’m pretty sure this is a statement of fact.  It’s substantiated at the very least by my social media timelines, which were recently scattered with photos of people’s attempts at cooking the batter-based delicacies for Shrove Tuesday.

Hiking the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

Hiking the beautiful volcanic Auvergne region

Indeed, Pancake Day – as it is now more commonly known – has gradually morphed into solely a festival of eating much like the true meaning of Christmas has gradually been taken over by present giving.  It is designed to be a celebration of food of course, but only because it’s meant to co-exist with a period of fasting which, from a religious point of view, is meant to follow for 40 days and 40 nights until Easter comes around.  Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, therefore, represents your last chance to stuff your face before you starve yourself.  But, whether we like it or not, these days it’s more about the eating than giving much of a thought to the fasting.

Weights (...with a few tips from my hubby!)

Weights (…with a few tips from my hubby!)

Please be aware this is by no means a lecture on Christian values.  I’ve never been one to preach it unless I practice it and the last time I checked, Mardi Gras lived up to it’s literal ‘Fat Tuesday’ translation for me – and meant little more besides whooping at successful pancake flipping and subsequent munching.  So, as lent comes to an end once again and I have failed to give anything up once again, I’ve decided to change my tactic.  Because, after all, giving up – like breaking up – is hard to do. Continue reading

‘Mission Marcy’: Dogs have feelings too!

Scientific proof, as any good politician knows, is very helpful to any successful campaign.  How kind then of boffins in Hungary to make a scientific discovery about dogs’ emotions just as I’m campaigning for ‘Mission Marcy’?

Regular readers will know that my husband and I have a schnauzer named Hank.  Lee named him after a character from the TV show Californication.  He’d not been with us long when my husband floated the idea that maybe Hank should have a Marcy (another character from the series) to keep him company.  Well, of course, that light-hearted mention is all a girl needs.  Like a dog with a bone (excuse the pun) I took the idea of Marcy and wouldn’t let it go until persuasion had conjured her into a reality.

Conjuring up Marcy!

Conjuring up Marcy!

As if on cue, enter scientist Attila Andics.  For background – his team were so determined to prove their canine emotion theory, that they first had to spend time training eleven dogs to lie motionless in an MRI scanner long enough for them to be able to record their canine brain response.   That’s dedication for you.

What they wanted to show was that our furry friends have some kind of emotional response to vocal sounds.  They played noises to them ranging from barking and whining to crying and laughing.  Then they compared them to how a human reacts to the same sounds.  What they found was that doggy brains respond in vey similar ways to humans’ when they hear happy sounds or sad sounds.  The science boffins concluded that humans share a very similar social environment and claim it explains why vocal communication between the two species is so relevant.  In other words, (as we’ve always believed but never known for sure) dogs have feelings too!

Best buddies!

Best buddies!

Why is this so important to ‘Mission Marcy’?  Well, from being a cute squeaking bundle of puppy fluffiness, Hank fast progressed to adolescence.  His voice broke. And he become an enthusiastic vocal communicator when he felt the need.  One of his favourite one-sided conversations, which started recurring whenever we left him on his own at home, was the howl of a lone wolf.   Well, on my (loose!) interpretation of the scientific evidence, I think I can safely say that this was Hank telling us he didn’t want his ‘pack’ to leave him on his own.  Ok, it may be a little far-fetched to translate ‘dogs brains react to vocal sounds like humans’ as ‘dogs can talk’.  But it served my purpose perfectly.

 

Playtime!

Playtime!

So, thank you Attila Andics and your crew, we now have double schnauzer trouble!  Marcy has settled in nicely and Hank is her best buddy.  There are twice the number of odd socks being stolen from the wash basket, twice the beggars for dinner scraps… and, as for taking the pair of them for walks on their extending leads, well that mostly ends up as a bizarre canine twist on maypole dancing.

The Maypole Dance

But they make each other very happy.  They told me so themselves. 😉  Mission accomplished….

 

Love is… wearing onesies this Valentine’s!

It’s February.  It’s Valentine’s. For singletons, Cupid is busy taking his aim and for those content in coupledom, it’s meant to be a chance to remind one other of our undying love. 

However, thanks to what appears to have been appalling foresight on my part, Valentine’s is a bit of a non-starter for me.  It all begins with having a wedding anniversary on the 1st January which, it turns out, is much is the same as having a birthday anywhere near 25th December.  It falls hot on the heels of a big Christmas spend-up, so anniversary gifts are all too easily abandoned.  And with New Year hang-overs also having their say, candlelit dinners are also a dead end.  Trouble is, by the time Valentine’s comes around, the ‘anniversary-which-wasn’t-really-one’ is forgotten about by both of us.  The domino effect being that we don’t celebrate Valentine’s either because ‘we’ve only recently had our anniversary’….and to think I thought the best bonus to a wedding on the 1st January was that neither of us would ever forget an all-important date!

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‘Tis the season to be merry. What makes your Christmas a tradition?

You can also read my blog in Cardiff Life magazine monthly.

With my October birthday, Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ night all duly celebrated, it’s finally time to look forward to Christmas.  I have made it my tradition to wait until December 1st before I allow myself to begin seasonal preparations.  This is no doubt why, each year, I am consumed by a panic of online ordering and lost in a clutter of wrapping, bows and gift cards whilst clambering on various furniture pinning mistletoe and balancing angels.

But, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our traditions to uphold and too little time to organise them all would it?  And talking to my husband made me realise that the magical thing about everyone’s festivities is that we all celebrate with slightly different quirks.  Those unique customs that merge and evolve with every marriage created and each new family formed.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Merry Christmas! Our REAL tree.

Here’s my top ten from growing up in the Benfield household – which I hope will have an influence on many a Byrne Christmas to come.  Some you will no doubt share, some you probably won’t! But that’s what makes them special:

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Pen to paper: letter writing in a digital age

You can also read my columns in Cardiff Life Magazine every month. 

Each year when the kids return to school in the autumn sporting the latest funky fashions in pencil cases, folders, pads and pens I am a just a little envious of their new stash.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find when browsing Cardiff Life mag last month, a fab selection of fashionable stationary for us adults too (and slightly more sophisticated than Bob the Builder of course!).  A colourful double page spread dedicated to pretty post-its and pens, neon satchels and even a good old paperweight.  I was reassured to see that even in a digital revolution, there is still some care for the practice of putting pen to paper.

After all, it’s that time of year when we all start to consider whether or not to buy multiple boxes of generic seasonal greetings cards, spend several hours writing each one and then a little longer sticking down the envelopes.  Oh, and then there’s an evening or two leafing through the address book only to discover half of those we have in there, are out of date.  And so being forced to revert back to texts and emails just to make sure the festive lengths we’ve gone to aren’t just returned to sender.

For all the bother it might involve, I am actually a big fan of the annual Christmas card ‘faff’.  It’s precisely the fact that someone has gone to that bother that makes it special when it lands on your mat.   I’m an even bigger fan of people actually bothering to write something inside that amounts to more than just a sign-off.  And thank goodness I’m not alone.  A quick unscientific poll (via Twitter) suggests a good percentage of you are still slaves to the Christmas card effort and many of you go so far as to include a note as well – or perhaps my followers have all just bought shares in Royal Mail?

Either way, despite these Christmas exertions, the hand-written traditional letter is becoming a dying art at most other times of the year.  It’s a far cry from when I was a child and the international pen pal network thrived.  Whilst my bundles of mail may now be stuffed gathering dust in a drawer at my mum’s, I still find it comforting to know they’re there and form part of the record of my childhood.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

Me & hubby: accustomed to long-distance love in a digital age.

These days, even when I found myself in a long distance marriage when my husband moved to play his club rugby in France, it was Skype, Watts App, text and email that became our communications of convenience, rather than cards and letters.  In fact, the last time I can remember writing him a letter was when I sneaked 3 envelopes in his kit as he left for the World Cup in New Zealand.  They came with instructions to read them as the tour progressed with the hope I might provide a little love, motivation and inspiration with my carefully scribed words.  Well, he found them at the airport and opened all of them on the flight out!  So, it’s fair to say perhaps not everyone shares my literary sentimentality…

Yours Sincerely

Mrs Andrea Byrne

Encs. Christmas greetings in advance!

 

 

 

 

Par vélo! Getting on my bike in France…

Hello, and welcome back to my blog from France.  If you haven’t already seen it at Hello! Online than catch up here instead…!

Thanks for taking the time to log on.  Last time I blogged, I was welcoming some visitors from the UK.  Not so absorbed with entertaining now, so I’ve had the chance to do some dedicated exploring of the Auvergne, and improve my tour guide credentials for the next time I have guests!

The ‘Tour de France’ has not long departed from this region – passing through a town about forty-five minutes away from Clermont – and producing another Brit winner in Chris Froome.  So, I decided it was time to break my 2-decade bike veto… and buy a ‘vélo’. Regular readers of my blog and Cardiff Life columns will know I’ve already indulged in a little pedalling practice on a friend’s (just to check the old adage really is true).  It is.  And so now I have invested in my own two-wheeled transportation and there is no stopping me…!

Par vélo ... !

Par vélo … !

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Family & Friends in the Auvergne

Hi there, this blog update can also be read at Hello! Magazine Online! If you haven’t already caught up with it there, then here is the latest from France ….!

Bonjour from me, Lee and little Hank from Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Lee has made his way to the Pyrenees for a pre-season training.  A week of mountaineering, commando training, zip wires … oh and a couple of rugby matches thrown in too for good measure.

Lee pre-season training army-style!

Lee pre-season training army-style!

In his absence, I’ve been welcoming some visitors from the UK and attempting to give them a taste of the Auvergne. Although, as I’m still discovering myself, it’s been more the idiot’s guide than the Lonely Planet!

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Puppy Love: Hank settles in

First, just to say, you can now read about my French adventures at Hello! Magazine Online. Maybe you have already!  If not, then here is a an update!  And my column/blogs can still be found in Cardiff Life Magazine too every month.

Right, now, you might remember that, not long ago, Lee and I went along to pick out a four-legged addition to our household: a Miniature Schnauzer puppy named Hank.  The breed chosen by me, because I’m allergic to nearly every other ‘make’, and the name chosen by Lee. I’m told it’s after a character in the US TV series ‘Californication’.  I’ve never seen it so I trust his namesake is a good role model!

Hank at just a few weeks old!

Hank at just a few weeks old!

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Channel hopping: From the news to ‘la vie en France’.

After 18 years working, 14 in journalism and 9 in ITV, I am for the first time in my life taking a break. Enrolling on a short term contract as a housewife. There it is in black and white. Although until I’ve started my new job, it will not really seem true.
You may not be so surprised to read that the primary reason for vacating the news anchor hot seat for 6 months was not so much a desire to bake cakes (at which I’m useless) or throw Tupperware parties (if they even exist now).  It was a more a decision motivated by the importance of nurturing the personal and the professional in equal measure.
We spend so much of our early careers competitively chasing ambitions sometimes it’s all too easy to find ourselves taking the most important things in life for granted.

Cheerleading Duties: Dublin, dogs, dentistry and the black stuff.

As regular readers will know, when I’m not in the news hot seat in Cardiff or London, I’m usually heading to France to tend to my long distance marriage!  Hubby Lee plays his club rugby there, so I’m no stranger to an airport terminal and I take very seriously my other full-time job of cheerleader wife.  This month has proved exceptional for journeys in the name of Team Byrne and the oval-shaped ball.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives' supporters club on the road in Dublin.

The Clermont Auvergne Wives’ supporters club on the road in Dublin.  All smiles before kick off.

The stage was set for a Dublin Heineken Cup final for my husband’s team.  Opponents Toulon were always going to be tough and I knew it was time to strap in for a turbulent ride. The game itself provided joy (when Clermont went over the line twice), fear (when Toulon did) and ultimately sheer disappointment.  After a match dominated by Lee’s team, suddenly the opposition managed to turn it around and it was them – not the favourites – who took the championship.  And by just one point.  Needless to say, watching my husband’s cup ambitions slip away was excruciating.

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